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Christmas spirit rises from ashes of Classic Road home
John Luvera, fourth-grade teacher at Coupeville Elementary School, has been teaching his class about the concept of "pay it forward" -- the idea of doing a good deed with no thought of return or reward.
Last week his class put that charitable thought into action when the Greenbank home of classmate Tony Jansen and his family burned.
Wanting to help his student, Luvera decided to buy a used dresser and have Tony's friends fill it with donations as a tangible symbol of their support.
"We've done food drives, but nothing like this," Luvera said.
"Pay it forward" came into play immediately as Luvera tried to purchase the dresser at the WAIF thrift store in Freeland. Upon hearing what Luvera and his class were doing, another customer in the shop volunteered to pay for the dresser.
The Jansen family -- parents Julie and David, Tony, 10, and Brandon, 4 -- had left home for the day on Dec. 11 when the blaze started in their rental house on Classic Road near Greenbank.
Although Fire District 5 and Fire District 3 volunteers arrived within minutes of a neighbor's call, the house was a total loss. The Jansens, who had no renter's insurance, lost almost everything.
The family had already set up their Christmas tree, and presents waited under the tree. All burned in the fire, for which no cause has been determined.
Back at the school, Luvera put Tony in charge of organizing his classmates in painting the dresser.
Tony had plans for painting it maroon, but settled for a brownish-red with a black racing stripe down the middle.
The back of the tall dresser is covered with autographs and well-wishes from Tony's classmates.
Once the dresser was finished, "Things just started flowing in," Luvera said.
Classmates donated clothing and pooled their money to buy a $200 gift certificate to Red Apple grocery. They also didn't forget the essentials for a 10-year-old boy -- a drawer full of toys.
As Tony showed off the dresser recently in his classroom, he talked about the fire, his big brown eyes widening.
"I was really scared," he said.
Julie Jansen came to the school to pick up her son at noon that day, and took him to see the house. Tony had lost everything except his backpack and some clothes.
Tony's best friend, Connor McGee, also saw the house.
"I felt really terrible," he said. "I went to look at the house and it was all black on the inside. I couldn't help the house, but I could help Tony."
Connor, who has a few inches on Tony, plans to give his buddy some of his clothes to help fill the dresser.
Maybe it's the Christmas spirit, or maybe it's just community good will, but Julie Jansen, a Whidbey Island native, said the community support has been overwhelming.
"It was devastating for us because we lost all our belongings," she said, "but it was doubly so for Tony and Brandon because of all the special things they had gathered over the years."
The family has gotten help from the Red Cross, several churches in Freeland and the community in general.
"People just stop by and drop stuff off. We get calls all evening, and I have a legal pad with a page and a half of names of people to thank," Jansen said.
The family is now living with Julie Jansen's parents, Tom and Margie Rehberg, in Greenbank. They plan on moving into a new house soon.
Thanks to the generous community support the Jansens Christmas won't be so bleak after all.
Tony is looking forward to taking possession of his class-project dresser and filling it with new treasures.
"I'm going to put valuable things in it like pictures of my mom and grandpa," he said.
Donations to a fund for the Jansen family can be made at any Whidbey Island Bank.